What was Bottle Rock? It was five days of beautiful weather and lots of sunshine, tens of thousands of shiny happy people, three stages and 71 bands covering a wide variety of musical styles from rock to jamband, alternative to electronic, country to folk, and from blues to bluegrass….. It was also an opportunity to excite your taste-buds with a plethora of incredible California wine, beer and food to partake, or a chance to giggle your fancy with late night comedy at the on-site comedy house, or to opt to continue to get your groove on at any one of the after parties put on by a local Napa Valley pub or club…….. I am sure all Bottle Rockers are thoroughly exhausted…… and completely satisfied!
Now that I’ve rested a bit, I want a do over. I, for one, cannot wait for 2014. I tell ya, when you see the lineup, pictures and read the review, you should indeed get a feel this was one new northern California music festival that should not have been missed. It’s all good. There is always 2014. People complained about the cost. Eh, maybe they just didn’t see the value of the five-day extravaganza. I for one did, along with a handful of….. OK, tens of thousands of others who attended the event. Traffic was not bad and parking was easy. Most of the hotels offered free shuttle busses, and the festival mapped out public transportation routes and set up nearby parking areas where they would donate $5 to local high schools for every car parked there. If you downloaded the smart-phone apps, you were kept updated each day if there were any schedule or parking changed, and you might also get a notification about a give-away offered by a vendor. They set up a booth for you to fill up your bottle on free filtered water, venders offering free tasting of their goodies, an auction set up to raise funds for treating and expanding research for Autism, video screens and big speakers throughout so you wouldn’t miss a thing while waiting for food or whatnot – they really did almost think of everything. I’m sure next year will have even more.
I remain impressed with the staff that ran this colossal event. I’m certain it wasn’t easy to manage all the bands, the media and photogs, the fans who had a few too many and either got a tad rowdy or needed help, um, getting back up. Then there were those who got a little to, um, excited and tried to get to close to a musician or those who tried to sneak into an area they shouldn’t (yeah, gotta love those scammers that keep security on their toes). They also had to keep track of who is VIP and who isn’t for those special VIP features, respond to constant questions, suggestions or complaints and really try hard at making everyone happy (including, I’m sure, meeting unique demands of the artists)… All the while, standing in the sun and heat and keeping big smiles on their faces the entire time. The festival took place on the grounds of the Napa Valley Expo, right smack dab in the middle of downtown Napa. Now, this might be why some folks thought it was amusing to refer to this festival as “Bottle Neck” instead of its proper name, Bottle Rock. It was no bottle neck and it certainly rocked, so my guess is the original name is the correct one. They worked closely with the community and hotels, had traffic down to a minimum with all the free hotel shuttle buses, public transportation, carpoolers being directed in different locations to their assigned parking lot (mine was 2), and those who rode their bicycles or stayed close enough to walk. Very well-organized. I opted for a hotel that was just about 6 miles from the place. I figured, sticking with the speed limit, it would take me between 10-15 minutes to get there if there was no festival traffic, but decided to add time just in case. No worries, no traffic. Easy in and easy out, no more than 25 minutes to drive there, get my photo pass, drive to my parking area and walk two blocks to the gate. The first day took longer but all the VIP ticket holders had to get their VIP goodies (laminate, t-shirt, snacks, etc.) in the same place the media did, so there was a bit of a line that day. I do note though, once they saw the line get long, they responded immediately and began pulling in more help. The only confusion is at the end of the night the first night, they had the road I took into Napa that day (Silverado Trail) closed so it took me a minute to get my bearings and figure out another way to get back to my hotel. I followed a few lost souls for a while until I realized that they were as lost as me! Other than that….. well, of course anytime there is a “first”, you have to afford the team an opportunity to “work out the kinks”, which I can say they actually did, within 24-hours. If something wasn’t working the first day, there was a clear reaction to improve it for the next day. Nice.
The only real let down was the last-minute cancellation of Furthur. Being the headliner on Thursday night, along with The Black Crowes, The Avett Brothers, Violent Femmes and Primus definitely created some noise – I know quite a few who bought single day tickets just for that night. They tried to keep the main stage in tact without Furthur with Animal Liberation Orchestra (ALO to their fans), a band from the SF Bay Area, and then The Black Crowes. But, with the sudden illness of Mr. Bob Weir, festival goers were told Furthur had pulled out but to be sure the night would NOT end any sooner. They moved The Avett Brothers to the main stage, and kept the Violent Femmes and Pimus rockin’ the other stages and ended that first night on a high note. Extending sets for ALO and The Black Crowes and moving The Avett Brothers to the main stage for a longer set drew a packed crowd of cheering fans that danced away the night. Furthur was absolutely missed and I sure hope that they will be invited back and offer up a killer set at the Bottle Rock 2014.
Big ups to Laura, Lisa and Amy for managing all of the photographers – they were super kind to all of us, and I must say, while the pit was kind of small for two of the three stages and certainly could quickly become crowded, the photographers I had the pleasure of sharing that space with were all super friendly and kindly enabled everybody get their “shot”. It was kind of unfortunate, but expected, that some of the bands opted to limit the number photographers or outlets that they would allow to take their snap – Only one was a flat-out “no thanks”, another looked at the list of outlets and limited it to about 10 or 15 that were maybe more symbiotic to the type of music or something, and a handful asked those approved to sign a release and then further limited the songs you could stay and shoot. Some even changed their minds at the last-minute, even after a release was signed – if you were not one of the first 25 photographers in line, you did not get in the pit. We didn’t know that in advance; I was off enjoying Ben Harper and Charlie Musslewhite who started at 8:15 and by the time three songs were up and we ran over to the other stage, the line was formed and we were not included. Bummer. It was hard to grab pics of all bands with some very close start times (within 15 minutes or some had the same time), or small delays overlapping into the other stage’s start time. So, unless you had two photographers (which was impossible as they only allowed one per outlet), there was no way to cover all 71 bands, or even a majority of bands. Now, admittedly, I have never been a morning person and so I did not get up at the crack of dawn each day to get there at gate opening; but, I did see 24 bands (and clearly missed a number). The smallest of the three stages was a bit hard to navigate as it got packed there pretty fast if the band had a decent draw of fans. I know people who wanted to see a band but opted for a less crowded area. They just couldn’t fit all the fans into the space, also having cutting off VIPs from the VIP area. One example was the Blues Travelers at the Miner Stage, the smallest, which probably should have been at the Citi Stage, a much larger space that instead had Andrew Bird and a smaller crowd. Maybe they’ll fix that the future, but probably hard to tell who will really bring the most fans. I think, though, if I asked who you recognized more, Andrew Bird or Blues Traveler, most would say the latter. (Much respect Mr. Bird, with nine albums and a nick name like “the mad fiddler”, you must be pretty righteous at what you do.)
Can’t forget to mention the local’s stage they had set up next to the comedy house. It was a place for local artists to get up in front of a large crowd and show off their musical stuff. There were solo artists, three-piece ensembles, full bands that shined on bluegrass, jazz, and the blues. The youngest artist, looked to be about 12 or 13 years old, looked a little nervous up there alone on the big stage strumming his ukulele and singing his heart out – pretty good too, doing his family very proud. I’ve mentioned the comedy house so may as well include the comedians – I caught Jim Brewer on Friday night and Jim Gaffigan on Saturday night and both were friggin’ hysterical – and the opening acts weren’t bad either. Nice touch to have someone on the side of the stage doing sign-language for the audience – and the comedians had a hey-day with her too. She was definitely a good sport, having to, um, interpret some of their jokes into sign language was pretty funny.
Let me get to some of the great musical creations and a few favorite festival moments.
Favorite Day: Thursday
Favorite Band: I will say The Black Crowes, but I did find myself filled with musical joy from ALO, the Avett Brothers, Ben Harper and Charlie Musslewhite, Alabama Shakes, Blues Traveler, Jane’s Addiction, Secret Sisters, and Michael Franti and Spearhead, who just apparently threw caution to the wind and gave the fans a wild ride.
Why was Thursday my favorite? Well, most of my peeps were there with me, for one. It started with ALO, who are a SF Bay Area band with lots of fans and really super danceable music. One of my favorite songs they do is, “I Love Music” – listen to this song and you will understand who ALO is – lively, free, jazzy, jammy, danceable, just plain fun. I stayed at the Willpower/main stage that whole evening, well, since I didn’t have permission to take photos of Joan Jett, I decided to stick where I was, had a great spot, hangin’ with my friends, and then held the ground for The Black Crowes – and that is when it really got crowded! Jett would have overlapped with the Crowes anyway, and I’m more of a Crowe fan for sure. I do love me some rock and roll, and I have been known to put a dime in the jukebox, baby (by sister and brother in-law actually have one in their house), but I did not go and take the time to dance with them. Oh yeah, “Ow!” (hee hee – catch the lyrics?)
So if Joan Jett got an “Ow!”, I give a “yea-a-a-ahhhhhhh” to The Black Crowes. This was during “Wiser Time” sick guitar exchange between Jackie Greene, The Black Crowes’ newest guitar god after Luther Dickinson bowed out due to commitments to the North Mississippi Allstars, and Rich Robinson. This song is growing on me, not yet one of my favs, but this time, I don’t know, it hit me differently. I remember looking up at the stage and thinking, gosh, if Jackie doesn’t be careful, he might accidentially toss or break that guitar! He was hitting it so hard, getting raw and deep with the blues, I think we all lost ourselves for a moment. Opened their hour and a half set with “Twice as Hard” and included other Crowe favs as “She Talks to Angels”, “Thorn in My Pride”, and “Soul Singin’” that left my soul singin’ for days…. Ended it with the heavy hitting, “Hard to Handle” before moving the heavy romp into Deep Purple’s, “Hush”. Rockin’! This band certainly has some fun together. Chris Robinson, the mystic, the poet, the voice of the Crowes who shares tails of angels and devils, wizards and wise men, hard times and wiser times…. All the wile, smiling and dancing, sharing his joyful energy with his brothers on stage and each and every fan out on the field.
And then came The Avett Brothers. Just where DO they get the energy??? Moved from the small Miner stage (oh my, I cannot imagine just how they would have fit all those Avett fans into that space!) to the main, Willpower stage with Furthur’s cancellation, they played a full-on energized two hour set that included head boppin, hip shakin, dance crazed song, sing alongs, and just pure energy that blew up the sky. My favs were “Laundry Room” (I get goose bumps for this one, “teach me how to use the love that people say you made…..”) – such a lovely, soothing song, until they pick it up and suddenly you’re foot stompin’ and jumpin’ all over the place just trying to keep up with those fellas up on the big stage. “I and Love and You”, “Distraction 74”, “February Seven”, “Murder in the City”, and “Head Full of Doubt” (“there was a dream, and one day I could see it. Like a bird in a cage, I broke in and demanded that somebody free it!”). They gave the crowd a very special moment when Seth and Scott Avett and Bob Crawford, bassist, came down off the stage into the center of the field where there was a small, square platform about 3 feet off the ground. Some of us had seen this and had a good idea what it was for. From that spot, they shared “Just a Closer Walk With Thee” and “The Ballad of Love and Hate” with everyone. It was awesome.
I suppose you can see why I named Thursday as my favorite night.
Friday included incredible sets from Alabama Shakes, whose body language speaks just as loudly as her incredibly soulful, raw, aching voice. She opened with “Hang Loose”, moved into “Hold On” and then “Always Alright”, which is has a quicker, more danceable beat then some of her heavier hits. Oh, and the “Heartbreaker” that broke every heart in the place (“how was I supposed to know you was a heartbreaker?” she croons). The Blues Traveler’s performing their first California show in a long while, drew a massive crowd that packed themselves in and showed how much they had been missed. They surprised everyone and just killed it on Sublime’s “What I Got” – walking through the crowd, you could hear people singing along, dancing and grinning. They also covered “Devil Went Down To Georgia” which was also covered on Sunday by The Zac Brown Band. “Run Around” and “Hook” were my Traveler original favs on their set list. The Flaming Lips were pretty trippy and a little quirky, maybe had me wondering a little more than others about the set up on stage and certain props… Pretty jaw dropping set, pounding energy, atmospheric, no holding back performance, and they tossed in a nice treat with David Bowie’s “Heroes”. I’m pretty sure they also had the youngest fan – I snapped a pic of her with her white animal hat, looking up to the stage and imitating what she saw on stage was just precious.
The Black Keys put out some serious sound from only a few fellas, no fancy stuff just raw, dirty rock n’ roll. My nephew turned me on to these guys a year or so ago. They opened with “Howlin’ For You”, a gritty, commanding song that gets ya singin, “Da da dah da dah! Da da dah da dah!!” They may have been channeling a little Jimi during “Next Girl”, which is another song with heavy hitting blues. I didn’t stay for their whole set as I wanted to catch some comedy after a long day in the sun, carrying a heavy pack, but luckily the music was fairly loud and I could still sort of hear them from the line waiting to get in. “Thickfreakness” was just as it sounds, and again, there they are with that raw electric blues, Jimi style or Lightnin’ Hopkins or even a little rockin Steppenwolf (“Git yer motor runnin’, head out on the highway!”). As a matter of fact, I had a video done when I decided to skydive for the first time and we could pick two songs, one for the ride up in the plane, and one that started once you jumped out. I picked Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride” – “I like to dream, yes. Yes, right between my sound machine. On a cloud of sound I drift in the night. Any place it goes is right. Goes far, flies near, to the stars away from here. Well, you don’t know what we can find, why don’t you come with me little girl, on a magic carpet ride!” C’mon, right?! I’m thinkin’ that I kind of like these guys, they are growing on me for sure.
Saturday started off for me with the Carolina Chocolate Drops, who could be pure old southern blues with sweet, sweet harmonies to knee slappin’, foot stompin’ jug band fun. They are the epitome of genuine southern black music from the 20’s and 30’s, and they purely enjoy themselves on stage during their performance. They are something special and the crowd that packed in on that Saturday afternoon to see them set their sights on getting to that stage for a good spot for a darn good reason. Next up at the same stage was Donavon Frankenreiter, who I really didn’t realize I knew until I heard him play a few songs. He’s a good friend of Jack Johnson and G.Love and shares their same funky, soulful, breezy surfer sound. I caught Jackson Browne all smiles watching the performance off to the back of the stage, and then chatting with Donavon behind stage before his own soothing and musical memory lane driven set started with “Down on the Boulevard”, “That Girl Could Sing”…. Man, he can sing – his voice still sounds the same after all this time and all those performances, and he looks the same too! I really liked the back-up singers he’s got – they were on point, and boy they could sing! (I couldn’t help that, sorry…..)
I didn’t stay long for Jackson Browne as I wanted to get on over to the main stage for Jane’s Addiction. I had never seen these guys live before. They got real popular when I was in college, I remember hearing their songs played in the bars a lot, especially “Jane Says”, which made the set list that day along with “Mountain Song”, “Had a Dad” and three more off of their Nothing’s Shocking release. They sure are hard rock, raw and powerful, heavy and loud, the way alternative should be. And the tattoos. My my, the tattoos that Dave Navarro wears… can make a girl blush. After Jane’s Addiction, I headed to the Citi stage for Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite, which was pure love on stage, and just joy to see and hear. Together they create some heavy hitting blues, so deep to your soul, so painful, so hit you in the chest and it hurts kind of blues. But it’s so good. They opened it that way too, with “I Don’t Believe A Word You Say” and “Get Up!”, both off of their new CD of the same name. Most of the songs came from that new disc, a few Musselwhite driven songs, and OMG, toss in some heavy Zeppelin-version of “When the Levee Breaks”, an old blues song by Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe McCoy, from the “Pickin the Blues” release. Ben Harper, what a musician, and Charlie seems to bring out the deep, raw, grittiness in his playing, and takes it to a warm space.
Sunday, the final day of the festival, started out “early” (OK, early in my book) with the opening gig of the day, the Secret Sisters, starting at noon. Literally sisters, Lydia and Laura Rogers have a unique harmony that only siblings can create. After hearing them live, T. Bone Burnett signed on as their Executive Producer and certainly has provided a great influence on their style and direction. They are just old timey love and harmony, take me back to a porch swing in the south, on a hot day, with a glass of lemonade…. That vision was assisted by a few old country covers in, “Cry Baby Cry” by George Jones who passed away just this past April, and “Your Cheatin’ Heart” by Hank Williams. It was a nice treat for the crowd when Brandi Carlile, a friend of the duo, joined them on stage for “In the Sweet By and By”. They returned the favor a bit later by joining her on stage for a song or two of her set. Charlie Musselwhite had a solo set the next day with his own band, for which he was all smiles and energy, showing his love for performing, love for his fans, and surely love for his harmonica and the blues…. And by the looks of his hambone case, a love for the Hells Angels.
Michael Franti and Spearhead were up next on my agenda, although sad to have to miss Mavis Staples, who I hear did a lovely tribute to Levon and The Band. As expected, Michael and his band gave off their typical high energy, soul-shine kind of music that makes you smile from ear to ear. I tell ya, hard for photographers though, as they are certainly all over that stage, in the audience, at the sound board, on the side of the stage, balancing on the fence, taking the camera away from the camera man, getting kids on the stage, tossing beach balls out to the audience – they sure know how to throw a party! The hour-long set included popular hits and songs I didn’t recognize so much, maybe on a disc I don’t have, although most sounded familiar. The set included some of my favs from the “Yell Fire!” disc (my apologies to the folks around me if I shouted a bit loudly when I heard the first note of this), including the title track (“TV commercial for the poppin’ pill culture, drug companies circlin’ like a vulture. Yell fiyaaa, yo ya yo yo yo! Here we go, here we go”), which suddenly switched into a Jimi Hendrix jam on “Are you gonna go my way?” – oh ye-a-a-ah!!! From the “All Rebel Rockers” release that trippy, reggae feelin’ “All I Want is You” that can feel goey and mushy in a good way. Of course there were pics from the “Everybody Loves Music” with “Yes I Will”… From “The Sound of Sunshine” they offered, “Hey Hey Hey”, and, of course the title track, which is when the beach balls really started to fly! The end of their set was very exciting for all of the young fans, when he called up about 15 kids to the stage for “Say Hey, I Love You”, allowing a very sweet little girl to take over the microphone, with lots of encouragement and help from Michael as she sweetly whispered, “one thing I know for sure is, I love you, I love you, I love you.”
Brandi Carlile, had I stayed longer, I’m sure would have driven me to the merch table to get her CD (much like my Favorite New Band, listed below) – she was all energy and girl rock, and she could sure yodel, I had no idea. And, she can also pull off some Sinead O’Connor and Dolly Parton in the same set! Train was next up on my list, another San Francisco area band that made it big with big radio hits like, “Calling All Angels”, “Get to Me”, “Hey Soul Sister”, and “Drops of Jupiter”, which is also the name of their band-label red wine (which I didn’t think to get, darnit). They also tossed in a few covers, one from FUN (“We Are Young”),Lou Reed’s “Wild Side”, and Led Zeppelin’s “Ramble On” which, of course started when I realized I should be over at the Citi Stage to catch The Wallflowers, who had a very good crowd and played their hits such as “Three Marlenas”, “Everything I Need”, and “Sixth Avenue Heartache”, as well as covers such as Joe Cocker’s “The Letter” and David Bowie’s “Heroes.” The last band I stayed to catch most of their hour and a half long set was Cake, another California band who has a command of the stage that works well to get the crowd rowdy, shouting, singing and dancing along with their hits like “I Want to Love You Madly” (one of my favorite layers of Cake), “Sheep Go to Heaven”, “Short Skirt, Long Jacket”, “Going the Distance”, and the rebel yell cover with Black Sabbath’s “Warpigs” – oh, they do this so well. So many happy hippies dancing around in the crowd, I may have enjoyed that crowd the most (aside from my favorite day, Thursday, which I spent with most of my peeps). Well, the crowd of undying fans of The Flaming Lips was pretty entertaining too.
I did skip on over to catch a few glimpses of the Zac Brown Band, just as they were killin it on a little jam of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” which suddenly changed to a sick “Devil Went Down To Georgia”! Well then. I also took some time and meandered over to the Miner Stage to see if I could, um, see Rodrigo Y Gabriella. I did stay for one or two, but the place was so packed, I couldn’t get close enough to get a good picture. Again, the close start times on all three stages put a crimp in my hook. But, what I did catch of this heavy hitting guitar duo blew me away – seriously shred it like big rock stars. They certainly have a Latin flare but cover songs from rock gods Led Zeppelin to heavy metal Metallica and Slayer shows their interests, styles, and talent span many genres.
In the end, yes, I was thoroughly exhausted from spending four long days walking from stage to stage, maneuvering the crowds of tens of thousands of other happy kids of all ages, in the sun, carrying heavy camera equipment….. but, in the end it was all worth every moment, every penny, every speck of dirt on my very dirty feet from those long days on the grounds of an “expo”, where you must expect dirt, dust and little tiny rocks that got stuck in my sandals. Fun event that Bottle Rock – I mean, c’mon, incredible music, great crowd (so great I lost my wallet on the last day and got a call less than 12 hours later as it was found, and still had my $5.00 in it), awesome crew, yummy food, incredibly delectable wine and beer. What more could you ask for? A do over? May 9, 10 and 11, 2014. Mark it.
Favorite New Band: Vintage Trouble. They channel James Brown and are filled with the kind of funk and soul you just don’t hear anymore. And, they were all dressed up to the nines.
Favorite Crowd Quote: “These guys are killin’ me!” (when listening to Vintage Trouble)
Favorite Meaningless Scribble: “Hey Babe”, during Michael Franti and Spearhead’s set. This note was not helpful as he tends to shout this out or include the word “babe” or “baby” in a number of songs.
Favorite Band Moment: As Cake ends a song, all I hear is the other stage, and even say out loud, “man, that stage is loud!” There was a little noise from the audience to reflect agreement. Then, John begins maybe what people thought was a comment on the volume, but rather turned out to be a little political rant. “You don’t hate those people. They are very much like you. Why can’t we all get along? Because people sing louder when they are singing against other people, I have found when they are singing to oppress other people, they become powerful. That’s why there is no hope anymore. That’s why we can try but we’ll fail. Just forget it.” There is quite a bit of noise from the audience, from boos and jeers, to whistles and cheers. John says, “Oh, don’t boo my pessimism!” The girl next to me yells, “Stop talking!” just as I hear the start of what was to be a very angry, heavy, yet Cakey, “War Pigs”. Awesome.
Favorite Covers (in no particular order): “What I Got” by Sublime covered by Blues Traveler; “Warpigs” by Black Sabbath covered by Cake; “Heroes” by David Bowie covered by The Flaming Lips and The Wallflowers; “The Battle of New Orleans” by Jimmy Drifwood covered by Primus; “You Send Me” by Sam Cooke covered by The Secret Sisters; “When the Levee Breaks” by Led Zeppelin covered by Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite; “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen covered by Train; “Hush” by Deep Purple covered by The Black Crowes; “Devil Went Down to Georgia” by Charlie Daniels covered by both Blues Traveler and The Zac Brown Band, who also covered “Ants Marching” by Dave Matthews, “Into the Mystic” by Van Morrison, and “Enter Sandman” by Metallica who was also covered by Rodrigo Y Gabriella with “Orion”. There were covers by Bob Marley, Buck Owens, Sinead O’Conner, The Doobie Brothers, The Eagles, Hank Williams, Dolly Parton, and Chaka Khan (Chaka Khan, Chaka Khan, Chaka Khan, let me rock you Chaka Khan. That’s all I wanna do…..)
Favorite WTF Moment: A girl videotaping herself on her smart phone, dancing and singing along to Cake. She sure did like herself.